It is generally accepted that the Alexander Technique contains a number of principles; but there is little agreement upon what the principles are, and how many there are.
F. M. Alexander on principles
F. M. Alexander refers to the principles of his work in all four of his books, but he was never exactly clear as to what they consist of.
For example, the word ‘principle’ appears 156 times in CCC, but Alexander does not state what they are; he merely makes references along the lines of the ‘means-whereby principle’, without stating in a single sentence what that principle is. In MSI he also refers to ‘the principles of mechanical advantage’ and the ‘principles of conscious guidance and control’, again without stating directly what the principles are. Only in UoS is there a statement as to the ‘means-whereby principle’:
Let us now see how the golfer’s difficulty would be dealt with by a teacher who adhered to the idea of the unity of the organism, and so based his teaching practice on what I call the ‘means-whereby’ principle, i. e., the principle of a reasoning consideration of the causes of the conditions present, and an indirect instead of a direct procedure on the part of the person endeavouring to gain the desired end.
This ‘means-whereby’ principle is then repeatedly referred to in UoS.
In UCL a subheading contains a reference to principles: ‘Procedures Involved in the Technique. First Principles in the Control of Human Reaction.’ However, the section does not specify what these principles might be; like other references to ‘principles’ it has to be gleaned from a reading.
Principles are referred to in several books and articles on the Alexander Technique, but what is a principle and what is not, differs from author to author. Predominantly these lists of principles are listings of concepts or, alternatively, could be considered as names for principles. Such lists vary in number between one and seventeen.
Irene Tasker (according to a 1936 newspaper report) referred to three principles:
- Primary control (‘the use of the head and neck in relation to the body’).
- The sense of feeling was not be trusted in the the correction of faults.
- Placing the means before the end.
Dr Wilfred Barlow called his introductory book to the Technique The Alexander Principle (1973), thereby implying there is only one principle (which he termed ‘use affects function’). Patrick Macdonald’s ‘litmus test’ of 1963 was his list of what distinguishes the Technique from other methods.
- Recognition of the force of habit.
- Inhibition and non-doing.
- Recognition of faulty sensory awareness.
- Sending directions.
- The primary control.
Although Macdonald did not call these principles they have been adopted as principles by other writers.
Michael Gelb, in Body Learning (1981), refers to seven ‘operational ideas’. This list of key concepts has also been used by others as a list of principles:
- Use and functioning.
- The whole person.
- Primary control.
- Unreliable sensory appreciation.
- Ends and means.
Pedro de Alcantara, in Indirect Procedures (1997), lists the principles as:
- The use of the self.
- The primary control.
- Sensory awareness and conception.
Peter Ruhrberg (1999) lists eleven:
- Specific & Direct vs. General & Indirect.
- (Psycho-Physical) Unity.
- Cause and Effect Relationship in the working of the human organism.
- Causal Relationship between preconceived ideas and difficulties.
- Imperfect Sensory Appreciation.
- Means-Whereby vs. End-Gaining Principle.
- Conscious, Reasoning Guidance and Control.
- One Thought.
- Genuine Trust.
Ruhrberg also provides a list consisting of 17 principles as written by one of his students.
Kelly McEvenue, in The Alexander Technique For Actors (2001), lists seven:
- Recognition of habit.
- The primary control.
- Giving direction.
- Feelings may give unreliable feedback.
Betsy Polatin, in The Actor's Secret (2013), lists five principles:
- The primary control.
- The power of habit.
- Faulty sensory perception.
Doris Dietschy, in her ‘Reflections on psychophysical unity and the Technique’, lists 12 principles.
The Alexander principle
- of faulty sensory appreciation.
- of end gaining.
- of non-doing.
- to inhibit and direct.
- of the manner of use influences the manner of functioning, constantly.
- of means-whereby.
- of prevention.
- of an indirect procedure.
- of conscious guidance and control.
- of volition and inhibition.
- of the unity in working of the mechanisms of the organisms.
- of mechanical advantage.
STAT’s curriculum contains a listing of ten ‘core principles’:
- The psychophysical unity of the individual.
- Inhibition and direction as the basis of change.
- The central role of the primary control.
- The trap of subconscious (instinctive) guidance.
- Development of conscious guidance and control.
- Manner of use as a constant affecting quality of functioning.
- Replacing end gaining with attention to means whereby.
- The relationship of parts to the whole.
- Restoring reliable sensory appreciation.
- Addressing fixed conceptions.
There are two suggestions for a list of principles which are not lists of concepts, but principles in the sense of being statements from which further information can be derived.
An updated version of STAT’s 2017 curriculum draft has seven principles, phrased as sentences.
- Manner of use affects quality of functioning.
- The individual functions as a psycho-physical unity.
- That thinking affects use (directing, giving orders or ‘projecting messages from the brain to the [physiological] mechanism and in conducting the energy necessary to the use of these mechanisms’ UoS, p. 35fn.).
- That practising inhibition allows time and space for us to become aware of, and prevent, harmful or unwanted habit patterns.
- That our tendency to endgain is linked with our habits and obscures the means-whereby we may attain our ends consciously.
- That paying attention to the rebalancing of the neck-head-back relationship (the primary control) facilitates a new pattern whereby we may learn to use ourselves with more awareness and less effort.
- That our sensory perceptions are likely to be faulty and associated with old habit patterns – they can be enjoyed but are not to be trusted – ever.
Jean Fischer’s listing (2006) has eight:
The principle of
- Use: use affects functioning.
- Wholeness: the organism functions as a unity, an indivisible whole.
- Prevention: by preventing what is unwanted, the right thing does itself.
- Sensory appreciation: that sensory appreciation is unreliable.
- Primary control: there exists a primary control which is the coordinating factor in action and reaction.
- Inhibition: conscious change in our manner of reaction requires conscious inhibition.
- Conscious control: through inhibition and direction we can direct our use and behaviour.
- Means-whereby: that means determine the end.
Many of these lists omits other important concepts such as operating on a general vs. specific basis, the influence of preconceived ideas and habits, reasoning from the known to the unknown, etc. It is fair to say that there is no comprehensive list as yet.
Wilfred Barlow quotes Gilbert Ryle at length as to what constitutes a principle in his The Alexander Principle. (The book Principles of the Alexander Technique does not contain any suggestion for principles.)
For a selection of F. M. Alexander quotations on principles, see the Mouritz Key Concepts Library.